Woodworking in the great white north.

The workbench build begins

I’ve been following along watching a few people build their benches as part of The Woodwhisperer Guild Build and decided to take a stab at doing my own detailed SketchUp plan for my bench.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the process of building a bench in SketchUp highlighted a lot of errors in my design.  I’m quite glad that I avoided finding this during the building process…but these were a rather painful lesson in using SketchUp.  C’est la vie…it’s all good, I know more about SketchUp than I did before…just enough to make me dangerous without making
me competent.


I revised my plan a few times, and still have more work to do to make it properly reflect what I’m going to build, but the basics are there and I’m narrowing down the scope of changes quite a bit.

I decided that I will indeed go ahead with three vises:  the Klausz style tail vise and a leg vise on one side, with a face vise on the other side.  I don’t plan to put the bench against a wall, so I hope this allows for multiple workers, or multiple areas for dedicated work during a build.

imageI had been to the lumber mill a couple of months ago, and again about a month ago to get the lumber I thought I would need for this bench.  I’m pretty confident, having done the SketchUp model, that I’ve got what I need.

The bench top will be made of soft maple.  The top is going to be a split top, similar to Bob Lang’s, with removable tool trays down the middle.  These will likely be under 6″ in width and I’ll either use 3 or 4 of them, still undecided.  The front slab (where the tail vise and leg vise will reside) is going to be laminated from 2″x4″ boards.  I expect the final size to be roughly 13 3/8″x3 1/2″.  I was hoping for 4″ thick, but I couldn’t quite find wide enough boards to make it happen.  The other deciding factor was the back slab, which is a solid 11 1/4″x3 7/8″ chunk of soft maple.  This has an unfortunate bow to it that means I’ll have to take off something like 1/4″ to make it disappear.  More on this once I get it lifted up off the floor and really see what I’m dealing with.  The tool trays will also be soft maple, but I’m starting with some 4/4 stock which should end up just over 3/4″ when I’m done milling.

The three vises are going to be made primarily from some walnut that milled up to a hair under 2″.  I’ll also be making a sliding deadman out of the walnut.  One aspect of the design that I’m still mulling over is whether or not I’ll make the endcaps for the front slab out of maple or use some walnut to give it a little flair.

The legs are going to come out of some massive beefy 6″x6″ pine timbers.  When I picked these up, they looked awful.  They were completely black on the outside, covered in snow (yes, outside in January…what was I thinking?) and crazy heavy.  I was assured by the mill that these were bone dry, had been on site for several years and would dry up in no time once I got them into the shop.  They were right!  There are a few knots and checks, but I’m not all that worried about them, I’ve got plenty of wood to work with and can afford to mill things down a fair bit.

From the 4/4 maple, I’ll also be making a shelf across the bottom between the stretchers.

The biggest challenge I’ve had so far has been figuring out the order in which to do things.  I believe I’ve figured out a process, based on the SketchUp modeling, that allows me to build without doing a whole lot of measuring.  Most of the measurements will be relative; once I’ve completed one component it will dictate the size of the next component and so on.

I still have a number of design points to finalize:

  • square, round or both types of dog holes
  • shape of the leg vise
  • shape of the deadman
  • end cap assemblies for the front slab
  • leg attachment (stopped tenons, through tenons, Roubo style dovetail tenons)

In any event…I know that my first step involves milling the front slab boards and building the tail vise in order to get the final dimensions for the front slab.


3 responses

  1. Looks good, Ian. You’re well ahead of me in the bench build. If I may weight in on your remaining design points:
    -Wide at top and maintain that width down to the screw.
    -Any shape you like.
    -No need for an end cap on the non-vise end.
    -Stopped tenons or just carriage bolts. No need to get fancy here. All methods will work.

    Good luck,

    February 22, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    • Hey, thanks for weighing in on the design stuff. This is where my hopeless need to challenge myself comes in to play.

      Dog holes: I’m actually thinking mixed round and square. I read Jameel’s article on square dog holes (Marc has the link in the guild page for the doghole strip). I was impressed quite a bit with his arguments, considering I was for sure going with round holes before. I’ll have to decide soon, the tail vise is close to assembly.

      Leg vise: Any thoughts on how wide to make the top? Aside from the Benchcrafted design, I haven’t seen too many variants in design. Most that I’ve seen are just a plank the width of the leg and nothing more. I know it’s utilitarian, but I still want functional style.

      Deadman: Here’s where creativity can kick in…I think this is where I’ll do something personal, just having designer’s block at this point.

      End caps: My laminated front benchtop is shorter than the back slab…I’m going to make up the difference with the end caps (if it looks ok).

      Leg joints: Remember my previous post? I wanted to use the Roubo dovetails? I still want to….self punishment I believe, but I may just give in and go with stopped tenons and a couple of lag screws.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:06 am

  2. I need to learn Sketch Up in a big way. I don’t wanna though!!!! Nice design elements!

    February 25, 2012 at 12:33 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s